Packed with brilliant performances by a cast of five…er…thirteen….er…5,000. Okay, five actors playing 5,000 characters, approximately 4,987 of which are invisible – we’ll get to that later – which leaves roughly thirteen visible characters, played by the versatile cast of five. Got that?
Oliver Muirhead is perfect as the constantly befuddled, yet always steadfast Hugh “Bullshot” Crummond. His timing and delivery are impeccable, even whilst dueling, flying, or hanging from the edge of a train. Constantly at his side, except when one of the other is abducted, is Anastasia Roussel as naïve bride Rosemary. A perfect blend of innocent Brit-farce ingénue, mixed with ‘30s screen siren, Roussel is beautiful and hilarious.
Christian Rummel plays sinister Nazi villain Otto VonBruno and battle-worn hero Colonel Claude Duvalle. Rummel commands every scene he’s in, gets more than his share of laughs, and navigates the show’s many quick changes brilliantly. Katie Boeck is wonderful as well as amorous Lenya VonBruno, whose loyalties change as quickly as the costumes. Boeck especially shines in the second-act ditty she sings while posing as a chanteuse.
Lastly, Rodger Bumpass is brilliant playing a host of characters, including short-fused invisibility specialist Dr. Morton Fenwick, tobacco lovin’ Sergeant LaFrais, and many others, including the aforementioned muppet from hell. By play’s end, Bumpass is playing characters that are onstage with one another. To say he pulls it off is to severely understate. His work in the final moments of CRUMMOND is a comic tour de force.
Ron House’s direction is simply extraordinary. The action, dialogue, scene shifts, costume changes, and evocative sound cues move fast and furious, and the laughs are literally non-stop. Though performed on a nearly bare stage, House makes great use of the various nooks and crannies the Whitmore-Lindley stage provides. Working with little more than a few entrances and a balcony, House’s staging brings to life tunnels, dungeons, trains, planes, and battlefields.
One of his more brilliant contrivances is the invisibility subplot. Characters fight with and are captured by invisible guards and other transparent villains, which helps both the good guys and the evildoers get out of assorted scrapes. The solo-combat scenes are yet another highlight.
No show as complicated as this one can happen without strong technical elements. Paige Selene Luke’s lighting design beautifully isolates characters and scenes on the small stage, while complimenting the many special effects. Stephanie Schoelzel’s costumes are stylish and handsome in the way that only clothes from Hollywood films circa 1935 or so can be. Sound designer Edwin Peraza’s period music cues, and sound effects are almost like an additional character, whether creating a hoard of charging soldiers, or a taxi skidding to a stop and waiting outside. It presumably falls to stage manager Kelly Rhone to execute the many sound and light cues – no small feat in this show. She deserves a shout out for making the tech elements keep up with the show’s breakneck pace.
BULLSHOT CRUMMOND AND THE INVISIBLE BRIDE OF DEATH is what live stage all about: funny, thrilling, theatrical in nearly every possible way, and a knockout cast delivering bravura performances across the board. Hollywood made at least a dozen Bulldog Drummond sequels in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Here’s hoping Ron House and company will deliver at least that many revisits with Crummond.
Show times and tickets
BULLSHOT CRUMMOND AND THE INVISIBLE BRIDE OF DEATH plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Jan. 16, 2011. (No performances on Dec. 24, 25, 31, Jan. 1)
Whitmore-Lindley Theatre, 11006 Magnolia Blvd. (near Vineland), North Hollywood.
Reservations: (800) 595-4849
Online ticketing: www.bullshotisback.com
PHOTO CREDIT: Ty Donaldson